A late afternoon game drive led to the rare discovery of a female ground pangolin (Manis temminckii) carrying a juvenile on her back. It is the most common the three types of pangolin seen in Africa. The young pangolin had its long front claws tightly bound around the upper part of the mothers tail, hitching a ride on her back, while she rustled through the long grass. The mother was at least twice the length of the youngster.
The pangolins curled up into tight balls when we approached them. This is an ultimate defensive move, and must have been triggered by our foreign sounds. Their hard keratin scales are hard, sharp and form a plated armour, which prevents aggravation from predators. Even lions have no chance of penetrating this advanced defense mechanism. Pangolins can also emit foul smelling secretions from anal scent glands.
To see a Pangolin in the wild is an ultimate prize. These elusive animals are few in number and there is a slim chance of seeing one unless it is scurrying across your path. Now we had two of them to marvel at. Realising that we were no form of threat, the pangolins soon unraveled themselves, allowing us to inspect their beauty.
These animals can live up to twenty years. Feeding on an insect diet of mainly termites, females give birth to young after a five-month gestation period. The young are born with soft scales that already start to harden after two days.
Man poses a great threat to pangolins. The species is hunted and eaten in many parts of Africa, and is a popular bush meat. Demand for the scales is high, as they are believed to have medicinal and magical qualities. The meat considered a delicacy. Deforestation, illegal trafficking, and hunting have led to a large decrease in the number of pangolins. In 2010, pangolins were added to the Zoological Society of London’s list of genetically instinct and endangered mammals.
This was the fifth pangolin sighting on MalaMala in the past two years.
*Scientific information adopted from: The African Wildlife Foundation. www.awf.org/content/wildlife/detail/pangolin.
Other rare sightings at MalaMala:
Ranger – MalaMala Game Reserve